Run To State Tournament Picks Up Steam

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Coach Shaun Hardt leaves little doubt that he is elated by his team's sweep of weekend games against Round Valley, 61-57, and Alchesay, 64-37.

"They are really playing really well together," he said. "We're in the playoff hunt and it's exciting."

The twin wins improve the team's all-important East credentials to 6-2 (17-6 overall) and keep the Lady Horns in contention for an automatic berth into the state tournament. The prep version of the Big Dance will begin Feb. 19 in Flagstaff.

The East's top two finishers in the final standings will be awarded the region's automatic state berths. The remaining four teams will battle in a regional tournament Feb. 8 and 9 in Whiteriver for the right to advance to state.

Currently, Payson is clinging to second place behind once-beaten Snowflake. The Lobos, however, must play Round Valley this week. In an earlier meeting this season, the Elks dealt Snowflake its only East loss.

Should Round Valley again upset the Lobos and Payson win both its final games, today (Tuesday) against Blue Ridge and Friday vs. Show Low, Payson and Snowflake would tie for the East championship with identical 8-2 records.

Both Lady Horns games this week tip off at 6 p.m. in Wilson Dome.

In Friday's four-point win over homestanding Round Valley, the Lady Horns which led by as much as six points in the early going had to survive an Elk third-period uprising.

"(Round Valley) went up by nine points, so we called a time out and told the girls if they wanted to win, they'd have to pick it up on defense," Hardt said. "It was a gut check."

The time out did wonders for the Lady Horn victory cause. By the time the period ended, Payson had regained the lead 41-40. Fueling the offense during the event was the one-two scoring punch of Brandi Waugh and Trista Carlton. Waugh finished with a game-high 21 points and Carlton finished with 17. With 12 points, Whitney Hardt gave the Lady Horns a trio of double-digit scorers. Ashli Herrera finished with seven and Brooke McRae had five.

In Saturday's win over Alchesay in Wilson Dome, the Lady Horns were never tested by the visitors. Payson led 21-8 early and expanded it to 34-15 at halftime and 48-27 in the third quarter.

The blowout allowed coach Hardt to give playing time to several freshmen he recently brought up to varsity.

With five points, Tanya Davis shined among the first-year crew.

Sophomore Hillary Hardt, usually a jayvee player, saw extensive varsity time and finished with four points.

The Lady Horn scoring parade was once again led by Waugh (14 points) and Carlton (12). Whitney Hardt finished with 11 and Haylee Huff tallied five.

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